Hard drive buying guide

We walk you through the process of buying a new hard drive, and explain all the jargon: from network-attached storage to solid-stated drives

Solid-state drives offer numerous benefits over traditional hard drives, including shorter seek and access times and greater durability due to the lack of moving parts. These drives are commonly found in a 2.5in form factor — the same size as most notebook hard drives — and are normally utilised in personal media players, netbooks and notebooks. However, SSDs are more expensive than conventional hard drives and have a higher cost per gigabyte. Solid-state drives also commonly have lower capacities than traditional hard drives, and so they won't as easily meet the needs of high-capacity workloads.

As the technology behind solid-state drives matures and prices drop, the drives will become more appealing options.

Capacity

For many users, the most important feature of a hard disk is how much data it can store. The maximum capacity of hard drives is continually increasing due to advances in technology. These days most laptops are fitted with a 2.5in, 160GB hard drive, while mid-range PCs use a 3.5in, 200GB-500GB hard drive. The highest capacity hard drives designed for use by consumers offer 2TB of storage. Most people won't need this much space (unless they have a lot of music and videos). A hard drive with 250-500GB of storage should be more than enough for most people, but it's worth checking how much space your collection of video and audio files takes up. The cost per gigabyte of hard drives tends to be 15-20c, with premium and ultra-high-capacity models costing more.

How you will use a hard disk will determine how much space is required. In consumer PCs, much of the space on the hard drive will be consumed by media files. If you plan to store a lot of media — especially video, but also audio — you need a big hard disk (especially if you plan to leave the media on the hard disk permanently, rather than archive it to DVD). The following list should give you a rough estimate of the amount of space different types of file will occupy on a hard disk.

• The operating system: 7-8GB (though this can be up to 16GB in some cases).

• An office suite: 2-3GB.

• A fully installed computer game: 4-8GB or more.

• A CD directly copied to hard disk: 400-700MB.

• A single MP3 music file: 5-10MB (depending on quality).

• A full album of MP3 files: 60-120MB (depending on quality).

• A DVD directly copied to the hard disk: 4-8GB.

• A DVD movie compressed to DivX (such as a downloaded movie): 700MB - 1.4GB.

• A Blu-Ray movie compressed to DivX: 2.5-4GB.

• Compressed home video footage: 1GB-2.5GB per hour (depending on resolution and quality).

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags solid-state drivesnetwork-attached storagestoragebuying guidehard drives

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

PC World Staff

PC World
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?